An informative road map for those who want to maximize their children’s material environment.
When architecture critic Lange (The Dot-Com City: Silicon Valley Urbanism, 2014, etc.) had her first child, she “came to see each successive stage of childhood development as an opportunity for encounters with larger and more complex environments.” Her approach is primarily historical and design-focused as she explores five specific topics that make up the “designed-for-childhood environment”: blocks, house, school, playground, and city. Corrugated cardboard boxes appeared in the 1870s, and children quickly saw their appeal as playthings. Wooden beads and blocks gained popularity around 1900. Blocks designed by Friedrich Froebel, the inventor of kindergarten, became popular when Milton Bradley began manufacturing them in the 1870s. Lange then traces the development and sophistication of blocks from the Danish LEGO (leg godt or “play well”) to “Minecraft” to Zoob, each crucial to stimulating children’s imaginations. Next up is house; as the author writes, children “need furnishings couched to their frames but also to their abilities.” The high chair dawned in the 1830s, followed by kid-size dishes. In 1929, Parents magazine featured the “Whole-Family House.” Lange teaches us about Maria Montessori, the “magic of the storage wall,” and the significance of Peter Opsvik’s multipurpose Tripp Trapp chair. School focuses on how “pedagogy and architecture go hand in hand.” The first spaces in America called “play grounds” were created in Boston in 1885 out of piles of sand, and the first jungle gym was installed in Winnetka, Illinois, in 1920. Lange argues that “segregating children’s play from the flow of urban life creates its own problems.” She hands out A ratings to cities (Rotterdam, Oslo, Seattle) who are redesigning city spaces in terms of children’s welfare. Disneyland gets an A-plus for its exemplary “child-friendly outdoor environment.”
Parents and educators will discover a wealth of information to inspire and help “make childhood a better place.”